Thank you for contacting me about student finance.
Participation in higher education has increased since 2010 and I am encouraged that the cap on student numbers has been removed, enabling thousands more students to benefit from a higher education. I also welcome the fact that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are going to university in record numbers.
Higher education must remain financially sustainable. Graduates generally earn more than people without a degree so it is right that they contribute to the costs of studying when they are earning as graduates. From the 2016-17 academic year, maintenance grants have been replaced by maintenance loans for new students from England.
At the same time, the overall maintenance support available to low-income students is increasing to £8,430 a year for those starting courses in 2017/18 who will be living away from home and studying outside London. This means all new students, irrespective of income, will have access to more cash-in-hand than ever before to help meet living costs.
There is a progressive repayments system for student loans and graduates only start repaying them when they earn over £21,000. Repayments cease if earnings fall below this amount. To ensure the cost of providing student loans remains affordable in the long run, the loan repayment threshold is being frozen at its current level of £21,000 for five years. Grants for students who are carers, disabled or have dependants will continue to be available.
Driving up the quality of higher education is also important, and students rightly expect value for money. To ensure that the sector remains financially viable, from 2017/18 institutions which can demonstrate high-quality teaching have been able to increase their tuition fees in line with inflation. This has given our world-class universities access to sufficient funding to continue to compete internationally. However, there will be no simple uplift in fees; a Teaching Excellence Framework has been introduced which will ensure universities are assessed on measures such as high-quality teaching, graduate outcomes, raising participation and student satisfaction. I welcome that only those universities who can demonstrate that they meet these measures will be able to raise fees.
Taken together, these changes will help ensure our world-class universities are sustainably funded, enable more people to benefit from a higher education, and uphold the principle that students do not need to pay up front for their tuition.
Thank you again for contacting me.